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Immigration Updates

October 2002
Immigration Updates

New Social Security Card Procedures

Effective September 1, 2002, the Social Security Administration (SSA) revised its procedures for processing applications for social security numbers (SSNs) for foreign nationals. Under the new system, SSA will have to verify a foreign national's immigration status with the INS through an INS database. SSA now has the capability of verifying the status of all foreign nationals using the INS' Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database.

If an individual has been in the U.S. fewer than 30 days, SSA reviews the documents according to procedures set forth in an SSA 'Confidential Memorandum.' The review includes scrutinizing the documents for indications of forgery. If the documents appear to be genuine, SSA attempts to verify them using SAVE. If the SAVE system cannot verify the information, the application continues to be processed and a number issued, while SSA submits an official request to INS to verify the information. A separate procedure is followed for documents that are suspected to be invalid and the application in such a case is not processed while INS verification is pending.

If a foreign national has been in the U.S. for 30 days or longer, the same process is followed, except that a social security number will not be issued until the INS provides the needed verification, either through the SAVE system or, if that does not work, based upon a specific Document Verification Request. Therefore, individuals who are new to the U.S. could face a longer processing time if they wait beyond the 30-day point to apply for an SSN.

A more stringent procedure is followed for citizens or recent residents of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Libya. These individuals do not receive social security numbers until the INS provides the necessary verification of status. However, if individuals from the listed countries are U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or representatives of a foreign government or international organization (A or G visa status), they will be processed under the usual procedures.

Nonimmigrant Registration for Selected New Arrivals

On September 6, 2002, five countries were designated as being subject to special registration requirements. Nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria will be subjected to fingerprinting and photographing upon their arrival to the U.S. as nonimmigrants. These individuals will have to register in person with the INS after 30 days and again on an annual basis. The regulation applies only to nonimmigrant (temporary) entrants from the five countries. Individuals who are U.S. permanent residents or citizens are not subject to this requirement. The new rule also covers any individual whom the Consular Officer or INS Inspector suspects to be a national or citizen of one of the five countries, since documentation can be unclear in certain instances; cases of an individual possessing dual nationality or dual citizenship, for example.

DOS Announces Visa Processing Delays

The U.S. Department of State (DOS) has announced that all Nonimmigrant Visa applications are experiencing 'substantial delays of six to eight weeks or more' at consulates and embassies worldwide. The DOS notice repeatedly cites security concerns and additional required procedures as the cause of the delays. The DOS, along with other government agencies, has been extensively reviewing visa issuance practices in light of post-9/11 security concerns.

Visa applications now undergo added security measures and greater scrutiny, resulting in longer processing times. DOS states that it is 'doing everything possible to meet the legitimate needs of prospective travelers consistent with the priority we must attach to our security and legal responsibilities.' DOS' main priority is to ensure that persons who receive visas do not pose a security threat and the notice advises that this responsibility takes precedence over all other considerations. DOS suggests that applicants build in sufficient time to allow for the expected processing delays. Although it is difficult to predict exact time frames for the issuance of visas, the DOS notes that those applicants specifically subject to additional levels of screening can expect delays of at least six to eight weeks prior to final decisions regarding visa issuance.

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